If you are new to chickens or have simply never rehomed battery hens before then these Frequently Asked Questions about rehoming ex-batts are for you! From the practicalities of the size coop and run you need, what to buy before you get them and what to feed them to general care for them when you get them. This is a good starting place if you’re thinking of getting a few ex-batts…
How difficult is it to look after ex-battery hens?
Ex-Battery hens do require a little bit of extra care and attention during the initial couple of months that you get them until they have adapted to their new life and routine. At first, they may not put themselves to bed (but this is often the case with new chickens anyway) and may not lay their eggs in the nest boxes but with a little extra attention during the first couple of months, they will soon learn the routine. Once they have settled in, they aren’t much trouble at all and are easier to look after than many pure breeds of chickens.
You will need to make sure you have the time to give them fresh water and food every day and make sure you can lock them up at night safe from foxes. Automatic door keepers are a very worthwhile investment.
Automatic Door Closer
You can view automatic door keepers for sale here.
Keeping chickens, like any animal does give you an extra tie if you want to go away. You will need to make suitable arrangements to make sure your hens are looked after properly when you are on holiday but neighbours and friends are usually willing, especially if they get to take home some eggs!
What condition will the hens be in when I get them?
Some battery hens can be poorly feathered when they come out from the farms, a few can be very sparsely feathered and can look almost ‘oven ready’ but the average hen will have just a few bare patches.
Hens will usually feather up within a few months and will then look far more like ‘normal’ hens. Hens will be pretty exhausted when you get them (as will the rescue co-ordinators after a pretty gruelling day getting the hens out and rehoming them).
How easily do battery hens adapt to a free range life?
It is a difficult time for a battery hen when she comes out of a cage, even though it is for a much better life. Hens are creatures of habit and anything different can cause them to be stressed and a little nervous. There are many things they will not understand at first, like being able to scratch the ground beneath their feet. This is one of the most natural behaviours for a hen though and will soon return. It is one of the most amazing sights seeing hens taking their first few steps out of their house. Within a few days they will be moving around, exploring their new home and enjoying a free range life. After a few weeks, their new feathers will start to grow, and within a couple of months, they will soon look like ‘normal’ hens again.
How many hens should I rehome?
Most people will keep a minimum of 3 chickens. The main reason for this is that hens are social creatures that live in flocks. Battery hens are frail and if you lose one then you will still have 2, the minimum number of birds to keep so that they have company of their own kind. With ex-battery hens, they have had a hard life and there is an increased risk of losing one before they have had a chance to recover and settle in. It’s for this reason that we would really recommend you try to rescue a minimum of 4 hens although 3 is of course the bare minimum.
What size coop and run do I need for ex-battery hens?
When you buy a chicken house, the manufacturer will usually state how many chickens they can house. Some manufacturers will always go for a higher number than is comfortable so it’s always a good idea to stock your house with less hens than is recommended. The main requirement is sufficient perch space for the hens because normally they will be outside during the day. You need to allow 30cm of perch space per hen to make it comfortable for them. It is good to be able to have enough space in the chicken house to hang a feeder if you don’t have a covered run since you will want to keep their food dry and away from the wild birds who will soon empty an open feeder left outdoors. There is some guidance on cheap chicken houses here but do remember, you get what you pay for when it comes to wooden chicken houses.
Chicken runs come in many sizes but the more space you give the hens the better. If you have a very small run, they will get bored quickly and will soon pick up bad vices like feather pecking. There is more guidance on chicken run size and keeping chickens in small spaces in this article.
What do I need to buy before I get my ex-batts?
Before you pick up your hens, you will need to get the following:
A secure chicken house and run. Foxes are the number one predator to protect against but Badgers will also take chickens from time to time. Battery hens are used to sleeping on the floor so remove perches in their house for the first few weeks. If they do climb up on a perch, they can damage their bones when jumping off so exercise caution with perches until they are settled in.
Food and water containers. Hang these inside their house at first so that they are close to the hens. They are not used to having to go far for their food or water so make sure they are within easy reach of your new girls. Some water containers come with a handle that allows them to be hung from above (hanging basket chains with a nice big hook on the end are useful for this) but remember you may not have somewhere to hang them once they eventually move outside. Some containers have plastic feet that keep them off the ground which are useful for this purpose.
Click here to see a range of plastic water containers.
Dry layers mash (not layers pellets) – this is what battery hens are fed. In time, you can slowly change their diet to layers pellets if you wish but wait until they have settled in for a couple of months first. Alternatively, Smallholder Feeds make a special feed for Ex-Battery Hens that helps promote weight gain and feather growth and has been specially designed for the nutritional needs of the ex-battery hen. We have heard nothing but praise from this feed from both rehomers and rehoming charities.
Poultry Grit – chickens don’t have teeth of course but do have a gizzard that grinds their food down using insoluble grit. Most free range hens will pick up enough grit from grazing but it is always wise to provide grit just in case. Soluble grit (Oystershell) can be provided mixed with insoluble (flint) grit. This provides calcium for the hens to produce strong egg shells. Commercial battery hens often have brittle bones since the calcium from their bones is taken to produce egg shells. Most commercial feeds these days provide sufficient calcium but again, it is a good idea to provide Oystershell grit ad-lib. A hen can then take it if she needs it. There is more information here on the types of poultry grit.
Dried cat food – yes, that’s right – cat food. Feathers are 80% protein. Chickens that are growing new feathers benefit from the animal protein in cat food so crushing up some dried cat food is an old poultry keepers trick that is used to help chickens through their moult. Do not use dog food because the protein in dog food is derived from cereals.
A vitamin drink / supplement. Ex- battery hens will benefit from a vitamin supplement added to their drinking water or food to get back into condition. There are many different supplements available on the market, some more expensive than others. Whatever you chose to buy, it will not be wasted since birds can benefit from these vitamin supplements during the annual moult or during the colder winter months when greens are in short supply. Most of these come as a liquid that is diluted down and added to drinking water but there are a few that come as a powder and can be added to drinking water or to a wet mash mixture.
A.C.V. – Apple Cider Vinegar. This is remarkably good for chickens in many ways but the best thing is scientific tests have shown it actually helps them to cope with stress and changes to their environment.
Apple Cider Vinegar
What should I feed my ex-batts?
Battery hens are used to being fed dry layers mash. Changes are stressful for chickens and ex-battery hens have enough to deal with coming out of their cages into a completely new environment so it is important for you to be able to continue feeding them layers mash until they have settled in for a few weeks, after which, you can gradually change their feed over to pellets if you prefer.
To digest their food, chickens must always have a clean / fresh supply of water at all times. During hot weather, this is particularly important when they will drink more. Chickens do not sweat and can only lose heat from their bodies by panting and drinking water that is cooler than their body’s temperature, it is for this reason their water container should be kept in the shade during very hot weather. Don’t forget chickens also need grit in order to digest their food correctly so they should always have (insoluble) flint grit available to them at all times for digestion. Oystershell grit or soluble grit is also important as this contains calcium which helps them source the calcium required to produce eggs. Chickens also love most fresh green vegetables and fruit. Corn on the cob, cabbage, broccoli, apple, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes are all appreciated and you can hang some of these in their run for them to enjoy.
There is more in-depth information on feeding chickens here if you are concerned.
Will ex-battery hens lay lots of eggs?
Battery hens are the result of many years of breeding and selection. They have been bred to lay the largest possible number of eggs in their first couple of years of their life. If you want ex-battery hens solely for eggs, then they aren’t really for you. Ex-battery hens should still have a large number of eggs to lay for you but keep in mind that commercially they are ‘spent’ hens and like any chicken will lay less and less every year, sometimes with a thinner egg-shell as they get to 3 or 4 years old. A very small number of hens that are rescued do not lay although most will usually start laying very quickly. Like all hens, expect them to lay most of their eggs during the spring and summer months and expect them to stop laying when they go into moult in the late autumn and when the daylight hours are reduced over the winter.
Where can I buy ex-battery hens?
There are a number of charities / rescue organisations in the U.K. that rehome ex-battery hens. Most of these require you to register with them so that they can allocate some hens to you from their next rescue in that area. They usually do not charge a set fee for hens, but they will ask you for a donation to help support their work and running costs. We would encourage you not to go straight to the farmer. The charities will check birds over for you and will often trim overgrown nails or beaks before giving your birds to you. A list of the rehoming charities can be found at the bottom of our article: Ex-Battery Hens For Sale
Do I need to register with DEFRA?
In the UK, you do not need to register with DEFRA unless you are keeping 50 or more poultry. When you count your birds, you must remember ‘poultry’ doesn’t just mean chickens, you must include ducks, geese, guinea fowl, quail and so on. There is more information on the laws that concern chicken keepers on this page here.
Finally… Once Ex Bats have settled in, they are just like other chickens and can be treated as such. There are lots of articles in our keeping chickens section that can help you to look after their needs. Most of all though, have some fun keeping them!